For over 25 years I have gardened a rockery or rock garden on a triangular patch of poor soil. I progressively scrounged and collected a range of granite, limestone and sandstone rocks and added them piecemeal. I aspired to growing alpine plants and recognised good drainage and shelter from winter wet weather would be key but that is as far as my planning would go. For the first couple of decades I was busy at work and wasn’t able to put in the effort of looking after small but hardy alpines.
One of the consequences of this lack of time was that I took the easy way out and planted ‘Dwarf and slow growing conifers’ that were a popular fad at the time. I also supported many alpine nurseries with my often ill chosen plant selections in attempts to buy a ready made garden feature. Latterly I joined the Alpine Garden Society and took advantage of shows and seed exchanges.
Then a latter stage crept up on me. The 10-20 year old conifers started to take over in scale and dare I say interest. Firstly dwarf can be a misnomer just because a conifer is small when planted it may very well just be a slow grower that has higher ambitions. I true dwarf conifer is a genetic feature of some species and are worth seeking out at the expense of other mass grown shrublets. Over time I dug out the larger and more boring specimens but still the alpines became less significant. I now have 20+ conifers of varying forms, colours and species taking over the alpines. The highest is 6 feet tall and may be the next for the chop one is low growing but spreads 5 feet wide and a favorite on mine is only 9 inches high. The space is still approximately 200 square feet but is extending into and adjacent bed past the crazy paved path.
In some years different plants do better than others. In my garden this year is the spring for primulas and today’s crop shows off some of the strong colours that I have been enjoying. Notably the blues are deep and stand out due to the contrasting yellow eyes. Yes to quote our former speaker John Bercow ‘the eyes have it, the eyes have it’.
Why better looking than in previous years?
A wet and mild winter has favoured the primulas and produced lush leaves and masses of bloom.
The ground I have photographed is largely dedicated to these plants with a few interlopers and weeds.
The original stock is a few years old and a process of selection must have been going on without me realising.
From last year the soil was in good heart in terms of texture and fertility.
I think I tried harder and provided more TLC as I also got good results of primulas in ornamental pots.
What to do after Spring
I am not confident that next spring will look as good but I see that copious water has helped so if winter is dry I will augment with mulch or extra water.
I will resist the temptation to split the clumps to get lots of new plants. I will mark out a couple of larger favourits and may split off some roots.
I will look after the semi-dormant plants as they loose some robustness through summer and give a liquid fertiliser boost before autumn.
The year 2020 is set to be memorable for far too many reasons. At the moment I will only stick to comments about plant and garden viruses but note we ‘caught a cold’ on the wet winter.
Jobs New to My Garden
I have had new roof felting and tiles on my bungalow that has some garden on all four sides of the house. The job yesterday was to go around the beds and edges to collect the bits left or blown on to the garden from the, mainly tidy, roofers. I was surprised at the amount of brash, jib and detritus that had collected under plants and all around the garden, not all the roofers doing. I will repeat the clear up exercise as part of an annual spring clean.
The second new garden job was also roofing related or more specifically scaffolding. Despite being a bungalow the house is built into a slope and the eaves are as high in places as a tall two story house. At pinch points around the house the scaffold poles had to be grounded on parts of the lawn ( a wet lawn as you can imagine). Where the grass was covered by a steel plate as support the yellowing of the grass returned to normal after a couple of weeks. The problem was where the exit from the scaffold was on to one patch of grass that became compacted and very muddy. I have spiked and forked the area and over-sown with some grass seed in the hope it will recover but muddyness is in the lap of the rainmakers.
Strulch was at the heart of my next new gardening job in what I now call ‘restrulching’. Last year I used a lot of Strulch to top off my ornamental plant pots particularly those that contained a new collection of patio roses. This was a success reducing maintenance and improving appearance. Now after pruning the roses I wanted to feed and top dress them. Where the old strulching was deep enough there was a mat of material that would survive at least another year but I broke it up to add blood fish and bone fertiliser then reapplied fresh Strulch.
Our son is a staunch vegetarian and his Christmas present this year will have a herb theme. He has the space for many pots and some new raised beds as he develops his garden 200 miles south of our Yorkshire home. It is bound to be warmer down there if not Mediterranean.
My selection of plants to grow will be governed by seeds I will give him to create a ‘saladery’ ( my word for a green leafy range of herb crops.) As a carnivore I can’t resist some Beef Tomatoes and Lambs lettuce on the menu.
Coriander for cut and come again leaves and ultimately seeds. I have bought a lemon coriander packet from Suttons said to be ideal to entice ladybirds.
Basil [Ocimum basilicum ] should produce well and there are several varieties to chose from . Sweet basil, lemon basil and lettuce leaf basil are on the list.
I had not thought of eating Bergamot leaves ( Monarda didyama) but they are recommended in my herb book.
Chervil, and chives are good old fashioned standbys.
Fennel and dill have similar tastes.
Lovage tastes a bit like cellery but beware of the diuretic effect.
Flat leaved and curly parsley ane a personal favourite
Sweet cicely roots can be boiled to bulk out a salad.
We need a rebellion against the extinction of the greengrocer but in the meantime it is a good time to use your garden productively. Late autumn in a great time to plant some fruit trees and canes. You can also use the cold months to plan and prepare your own vegetable crop production for the next year.
From the array on this fruit stall I would strongly recommend you increase the number of apples, pears and plums you plan to harvest. Better to have air yards from garden to kitchen than air mile from exotic countries.
The next on my wish list would be cane fruit and strawberries. By selecting appropriate varieties you can get good crops over a 4/5 month period and the taste will be fresh and wholesome.
I have skirmished with citrus fruit and exotics but have given myself a pass. Greenhouse space is to precious and crop levels are unreliable. I consider a grape vine worth cultivating if you can get the right conditions.
This fruit shop in Cardiff also had ‘imported’ sharon fruit, pomellos, lemons, melons, satsumas, pineapples, chinese chestnuts, pomegranates and persimmons. I don’t think I have tasted all those fruit types never mind trying to grow them
Feeling grouchy and ill-tempered then perhaps you should plant a crab apple and that way you won’t feel crabby much longer.
Key Facts about Crab Apples.
Common apples and crab apples are related. They are both members of the malus genus.
They are grown for their lavish display of spring blossom.
After the blossom a copious amount of small fruit are generally produced suitable for jelly or jam making.
The right variety can make an ideal specimen tree for a small or medium sized garden.
Original European crab apples have short spines and can be found growing wild in hedgerows.
Horticulturally they are often used in orchards inter-planted with apples to assist pollination. They themselves are self fertile.
Fruit may be red, green or yellow.
Plant new trees grafted on to semi-dwarfing stock during winter.
RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) are designed to helps you choose the best crab apples to grow and include Butterball producing butter coloured fruit. Jelly King has large fruit and guess what they can be used for. Laura is a registered variety that is naturally dwarf yet a good all rounder. Red Sentinel and Sun Rival have upright and weeping shapes respectively. Other awarded crabs include Evereste, Comtesse de Paris, Admiration, Cardinal, Malus transitoria, Scarlett and the Japanese Crab Malus floribunda.